1-D-1 open space law offers incentives for landowners and opportunity for beekeepers
Ben Franklin famously said that nothing is more certain in life than “death and taxes,” but a 2012 Texas law gives landowners a potential reprieve (from the tax part at least!).
The 1-D-1 Open Space constitutional change paved the way for folks with smaller parcels of rural land — between five and 20 acres — to qualify for agricultural tax valuation by doing farm, ranch, or wildlife management work. And qualifying for Ag valuation typically spells a much lower tax rate. Take that, Ben Franklin!
While there was some discussion in the most recent Texas legislative session about standardizing Ag valuation rules statewide, as of now guidelines are unique to each of the 254 counties in Texas — unique, because what works in the piney woods of the east won’t necessarily work in the vast, open expanses of West Texas and vice versa, according to Scott Untied (pronounced ‘un-teed’).
Untied and his wife Sue Ann own and manage Texas Rural Property Tax Consultants based in Kingsland and help landowners across the state with the sometimes-complicated details of Ag and wildlife management.
“As big and diverse as Texas is, it would be really hard to standardize every county,” Untied said. “But most of the counties have adopted what I’ll call the Harris County standard.”
Because Harris County was the first to apply standards to beekeeping for Ag valuation many have followed suit, calling for a minimum of six hives for the first five acres and an additional hive for every 2.5 acres up to 20 acres (totaling 12 hives for 20 acres).
Some counties require fewer hives because of drier conditions, while a few counties (DeWitt, San Saba, Austin, and Miller) even allow landowners to qualify for Ag by raising native pollinators, such masonry bees.
Qualifying for Ag with bees typically starts with a phone call or a trip to the local tax appraisal office to find out what the rules are in your area.
Land that already has a steady record of Ag designation typically qualifies for Ag status right away. Landowners who can’t prove current Ag designation must build up a five-year history of activity.
Some counties are stricter about compliance, Untied said, scheduling regular site inspections and requiring detailed reports. And while some landowners take up beekeeping on their own, the 2012 law has also spawned a cottage industry of hive leasing among Texas beekeepers large and small.
The key to success with bees in Ag is to first of all become a good beekeeper, Untied said, as otherwise you’re constantly losing hives and having to play catch-up. Next is keeping good records of your beekeeping activity. That means reports of regular hive inspections, including feeding, treatments, splitting of hives, and receipts for all expenses.
Registering hives with the Texas Apiary Inspection Services, though not always required, is another layer of proof for your beekeeping operation.
All these records are vital for landowners to prove their Ag purpose at year 5 when they apply to their county. And once land is designated as Ag land it can be converted to wildlife management, Untied said.
The Texas Apiary Inspection Service website (txbeeinspection.tamu.edu) has helpful info about Ag valuation, and the Texas Beekeeper’s Association (texasbeekeepers.org) has detailed info as well as a very helpful PDF download with a breakdown of 1-D-1 and beekeeping.
Charlie Agar is a beekeeper in New Braunfels who leases bees for Ag. Find him at CharlieBee.com.